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The Invitation

Story ID:947
Written by:Nancy J. Kopp (bio, link, contact, other stories)
Story type:Fiction
Location:Oregon IL USA
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The Invitation


Nancy Julien Kopp

When I got to English class, a small white envelope lay on the top of my desk. I'd missed being late by a hair, so I slid into my seat and stuffed the envelope in my pocket when I spied my name. Definitely for me, but what rested inside remained a complete mystery, and I wondered what it could be. Maybe the envelope held a love letter from a girl. Yeah. Right! More likely a threat to the "new kid" in town.

"You'll like a small town," Mom told me when we moved here. "Small towns are full of friendly people." A year and a half later, I was still searching for some of that small town friendliness. "The new kid" label burned deeper by the week.

The bell rang and I grabbed my books, raced to my locker, and slid the envelope from my pocket. Inside was an invitation to a party at Jenny Millbrook's house. I checked the envelope once more to make sure it was meant for me. Why did Jenny invite me? She'd never spoken to me. Once, I thought she wanted to say something when I passed her seat on the bus. I slowed down when I noticed her peeking at me with those big brown eyes. No luck though. She'd never said a word. If nobody ever talked to me, how would they know what a great guy I was? Maybe it would be different at the party. Yes! Yes! Yes! It would be a fantastic night. I could feel it in my bones.

After school, I missed the bus. I didn't mind the walk home, since I had good things to think about. The party was Friday night, only three days away.

I rounded the bend in the road and jogged up to the small building that housed the restaurant Mom ran. Lots of local people came to eat there. I helped out by being the one and only busboy. Sometimes kids from school came in with their parents, but they ignored me. Most of them acted like they'd never laid eyes on me.

In the kitchen Mom was slicing apple strudel, still warm and golden brown. I reached for a piece, ready to tell Mom about the invitation.

"Hurry Josh. Go get cleaned up so you can set the tables before customers begin arriving."

I raced upstairs empty-handed. Compact and cozy the landlady had said. Small and dreary described our apartment better. In our old house, my friends would have been raiding the refrigerator by now--four or five of us sprawled around the kitchen table.

This kitchen didn't even have room for a table. It barely had room for Mom and me at the same time. I changed in a flash and flew down the steep stairway looking like the busboy Mom wanted. My face was clean, hair slicked back, and I wore a white shirt and tie Dad left behind when he walked out two years ago.

I pushed through the swinging door into the kitchen. "Mom, wait until…."

"Not now, Josh." She glanced up from a pot of soup she was stirring. Fatigue showed in her eyes, but that was nothing new. "I've booked a big party for Friday night. Don't miss the bus that day. I'm going to need your help setting up and cleaning tables."

Her words hit me like a doubled-up fist. I didn't answer. I couldn't answer. Instead, I headed for the dining room to set tables. Charging through the door, I nearly collided with a waitress. I breathed easier when I realized it was Millie and not her twin sister, saber-tongued Sadie. Ours had to be the only restaurant in existence with look-alike twin waitresses about a zillion years old. "They're like two little birds," Mom said the day she hired the small pair. Their narrow faces were almost identical, and they dressed the same, right down to their white orthopedic shoes. But there was one sure way to tell them apart. Millie was the one who smiled a lot, and Sadie wore a permanent scowl.

I set the tables in record time, so fast that Sadie barked at me. "Save the crystal and silver. Your mother can't afford to buy more."

She slammed the water pitcher down hard to emphasize what she told me. Boy, she could be mean.

Millie whispered to me when she passed by. "Don't take her words to heart, Josh. She doesn't really mean it. Disappointed in love, you know."

Millie usually defended Sadie's sharp remarks by telling me she'd been disappointed in love. I wondered how anyone could have loved her. Maybe she was different when she was my age. But I didn’t have time to think about Sadie and her love life just then.

All I could think about was Friday night and Jenny's party. Jenny would finally talk to me. Couldn't Millie and Sadie do the busboy bit one night? Scratch that thought…no way. I have to tell Mom I can't work. I pushed through the swinging door, purpose in mind.

Mom was at the stove again, eyes and hands busy. "Josh, sometimes I wonder how I'd be able to keep this place running if I couldn't depend on you so much. You will be sure to make the bus Friday, won't you?"

My plan had been to tell her about the party Friday night, but I couldn't get the words out. Running a restaurant is more than cooking. Mom spent a lot of time worrying, though she tried to hide it from me. Funny thing is, I worried about her, too.

What could I say but, "Sure Mom. I'll be here right on time."

I picked up a tray and hurried back to the dining room. Looks like I'll have to find another way to have my first conversation with Jenny. But how?

Sadie stormed up to me scowling more than usual, hands planted on her bony hips. "I don't suppose you would want to come over to our place Sunday night and meet our grand-niece, Jenny, would you? She keeps asking about you. Why, I'll never know, but come if you want to."

Sadie pushed open the kitchen door but hollered back, "Six o'clock, and be on time!"

It was the nicest thing she ever said to me.

Note: This story was published in the Kid Space section of The Christian Science Monitor and also at WriteCraftWeb.com. It was based on a young busboy I observed in a restaurant, but the story is pure fiction. The story was published again in Encounter, a Christian magazine for teens.